Music and Literacy Skills

How to Use One to Improve the Other

Editor’s Note: For this month’s blog, we bring back guest writer Ed Carter, a retired financial planner. (See his website here.) His piece, perfect for new music parents, summarizes many of the “intangibles” that music education provides to foster child development, especially the enhancement of language skills. In 2019, I wrote the blog “The Importance of Music Education” (click here) based on an interview I did for a local community news program on the essentiality of teaching music that covered many of these concepts. Special thanks go to Ed Carter for sharing his research and perspective. 

Parents and educators are always looking for ways to improve their children’s learning –
especially when it comes to reading. Sometimes, though, unconventional approaches can work wonders. Experts believe the best way to boost a student’s reading is actually to expand their knowledge and vocabulary by teaching them history, science, literature and the arts.

Understanding the Connection

Children who learn to play an instrument or who join a choir have a longer attention span and better listening skills. Music stimulates the brain in so many ways. In fact, playing music may help the human brain more than any other activity. Some researchers even suggest that musical training can alter the nervous system in a way that improves learning in a way that offsets the academic gap between affluent students and students from lower income backgrounds.

Music improves language skills in particular because there is a neurological connection between maintaining rhythm and reading. Scientific American notes that when children learn how to keep a beat, they are better able to concentrate on a passage and decipher the meanings behind the words. A child’s reading ability relies on making a connection between the symbols they see on the page and the sounds of letters.

The Best Age for Music Lessons?

There is no such thing as a kid being too young for music. Many parents even expose their child to melody and rhythm before they are even born in an attempt to stimulate brain activity. Drumming is a great place to start. It is more important they gain experience with music and learn to develop a meaningful relationship with it at a young age. Children as young as 3 can develop skills like identifying a beat, melody and instruments in music.

By the age of 5, your child may be ready for formal lessons with beginner instruments such as drums, the piano, violin, recorder, guitar or ukulele. If your 5-year-old is not ready to start formal lessons with an instrument, they can still develop their musical skills online. Invest in a kid-friendly laptop and some durable headphones that allow them to interact with online music programs and apps that develop skills that can translate to playing an instrument in time.

To exhibit your genuine interest in your kid’s growing skills, consider creating a music room for them to be able to learn and hone their craft. This dedicated space is a perfect place for distraction-free lessons. It’s a good idea to soundproof the room, too, so others in the home aren’t disturbed. Having a bonus room that can act as a multipurpose room can increase your home’s appraisal value should you decide to sell anytime soon, as such upgrades are what many buyers look for.

Music Mistakes to Avoid

While some children pick up an instrument like a fish to water, all children develop differently. If you push your child into music lessons too early, they can become overwhelmed. Not progressing in their skill can hurt their self-esteem and discourage their progress. Let your child ease into their musical lessons gradually with time.

You can’t just throw money at a music tutor and expect that to be enough. If you want your child to grow in their skills, sit with them as they practice each day. Consistent practice is more effective than long lessons and your presence provides discipline and encouragement.

There is going to be a moment where your child expresses a desire to quit their instrument. Instead of letting them give everything up too soon, always talk with your child about why they feel like quitting and adjust their lesson goals to make playing music fun again rather than a chore. Encouraging your child to stick with it rather than quit teaches your child how important perseverance is in life.

Children all over the country struggle with reading. Adding music lessons to your child’s schooling can help improve their language skills and reading comprehension. There’s no exact age for starting music lessons, but incorporating music into other activities is a great way to start introducing them to rhythm and melody. As they grow up, involve yourself in your child’s learning and measure progress by the goals they reach and the amount of fun they have.

PKF

© 2022 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits:

Goals for the Musical Road to Success

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Matt Hains

Making mature and meaningful decisions to plan personal practice

As the school concert season draws to a close and summer is almost upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on a little musical goal-setting, complete a personal inventory and needs assessment (in what areas do I need help?), foxsfiresidesprioritize what’s the most important, and define several new “practice plans.”

Do you recall a cartoon with Lucy van Pelt bossing Charlie Brown around and handing him his own very long list of New Year’s resolutions? Except for your parents and the music teachers who know YOU, it isn’t usually effective for someone else to pick your goals. (Of course, if you don’t listen to the suggestions from your music directors and private teachers, there’s a good chance you will never improve!) Sitting around doing nothing, accepting things as they are now, and randomly floating from one task to another accidentally “making music” without foresight or planning are not likely to work. Inattention and osmosis are slow ways to achieve anything in life. Obviously, you must be motivated, ambitious, focused, and committed to “whatever it takes” on the pathways towards self-improvement and musical mastery!

According to “goals experts” (such as the One Minute Manager book by Kenneth Blanchard and the Utah State University recommendations below), to create meaningful personal goals, they should:

  • Be written down (Take the time and post them in your room!);
  • Be specific (Keep it focused, simple, and to the point!);
  • Be concrete (Exactly what/how do you need to do?);
  • Be measurable (How do you know when you’ve succeeded?);
  • Be viewed and reviewed often (Look at them daily/weekly/monthly, and every time you practice!);
  • Be shared (Show them to your music teacher and/or parents/spouse!);
  • Be flexible and change as needed (Modify and adjust – set new goals!);
  • Have a time frame (When will these have to be completed?).

ALL students, parents, and teachers – CLICK ON THIS LINK! Download, print, and read Getting What You Want – How to Make Goals: https://www.usu.edu/asc/assistance/pdf/goal_setting.pdf

seriestoshare-logo-01Your practice should have well-defined goals. What do you want to learn as a musician? Are there particular pieces of music, styles, or technical skills you would like to be able to play? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide what work is needed and assist defining specific learning targets. If you have a private teacher, he/she will automatically prescribe objectives for you, based on your present strengths and weaknesses. But if you desire to join the local youth symphony, participate in a music festival, play in a pit orchestra, perform solos or chamber music, become a conductor, help coach your peers, or want to improve a specific technical skill or general musicianship, make sure your teachers know it! They may be able to share warm-ups, strategies, or practice materials that will help you improve and expand your knowledge, technique, expressiveness, sight-reading and ear training.

Here are some goal-related questions to ask yourself (consider several of these):

  1. Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
  2. Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
  3. What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
  4. When was the last time you performed a solo or two and recorded yourself? Wouldn’t it be fun to video yourself playing a mini-recital and sending the DVD to your grandmother or grandfather?
  5. One of the greatest challenges in performance is sight reading. Can you pull-out a random piece of music (even something written for a different instrument) and play it straight through without stopping?
  6. Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
  7. Ask your teacher what would be an appropriate exercise book. Can you define several new challenging goals in playing scales, arpeggios, other warm-ups, or études specifically geared for your instrument?
  8. For Western Pennsylvania residents, did you know the South Hills Junior Orchestra is always open to new instrumentalists? SHJO begins its Saturday practices a week after Labor Day (USCHS Band Room 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Everyone is welcome to play in 2-4 free-trial practices!

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.